July 31, 2011

Revisiting Ray Stevens, Part 3...

Unreal is quite an album from Ray Stevens. The collection came along in 1970 as the second album by Ray Stevens on the Barnaby label. Officially there are three exclamation points after the album's title but I hardly ever include them whenever I write about the album. This album includes a lot of topical songs...a keen understanding of history will go a long way for some to enjoy the collection as most of the songs deal with some sort of news item of the day. Protests, social turmoil, anti-war riots, and general chaos were on the menu during the late '60s/early '70s era. This one album, in particular, seriously tackled a lot of the issues of the day and it's one of his all-time best. The political aspect of a lot of the songs are common sense, middle-of-the-road observations of the 1969-1970 political scene. Ironically, much in the same way that a lot of Ray's modern-day songs reflect a common sense approach to 2011 politics the very same thing was happening on this album but with an obvious 1970 flavor. I always like to point out this 1970 album whenever a modern-day critic accuses Ray of "being political all of the sudden". Those who really pay attention to Ray's music are well aware of this album and are aware that Ray's an Independent thinker and continues to be one...in spite of what his critics would have you believe.

The album contains 11 songs...9 of which were written by Ray Stevens! The only songs that Ray didn't write were "Come Around" and "Talking". In the case of the latter Ray's brother, John, wrote the song. A writer credited as B. Smith wrote "Come Around".

The album's title, Unreal, or Unreal!!! as it appears on the album cover, as far as I know was lifted from "Sunset Strip". Within the song's chorus the background vocals (all Ray Stevens I might add!) can be heard singing "something Unreal about you!" several times. "Sunset Strip" is arranged to show reverence to the sounds of the Beach Boys. The song became a Top-20 hit on the Easy-Listening chart.

1. Sunset Strip
2. Can We Get To That? (social comment)
3. Imitation of Life (love song)
4. Night People
5. America, Communicate With Me (political/topical)
6. Come Around (social comment)
7. Loving You On Paper (topical)
8. Dream Girl (love song)
9. Monkey See, Monkey Do (social comment)
10. Talking (political/topical)
11. Islands (love song)

Besides "Sunset Strip", the album contains another Easy-Listening Top-20 hit...the very topical "America, Communicate With Me". The song is often misinterpreted today as being a full-on 100% show of support for liberal politics and the anti-war movement but in reality, if you listen carefully, Ray's political Independence is heard loud and clear as he examines the problems going on in the country and he offers his solutions on how problems can be solved.

The most revealing aspect of the song's true intent, for those still unclear about the song's message, is near the end when he sings about remaining loyal to the country and in spite of the wars and protests going on...brought about by both political parties...that he'll continue to be a patriot that won't turn his back on the country or wish it were like some foreign land whose people have no freedom or rights. The song, as I mentioned, has a distinctly Independent flavor and I can bet that Ray wrote the song and put it out to give a voice to those who were often over-looked by the extremes in both political parties. All anyone has to do is listen to the song's opening lines to understand how Independently thought out the song is...but nevertheless some people out there who've discovered the song in the last several years have gone to great lengths to paint the song in a decidedly liberal direction perhaps in the hopes of undermining Ray's modern-day political success with conservatives and those who consider themselves members of the Tea Party? Whatever their motive is the facts always defuse the left-wing bomb throwers of the world.

"Night People", "Sunset Strip", "Imitation of Life", "Islands", and "Dream Girl" depart from the political, topical, and social comment nature of the album. So it's like half the album is distinctly political and topical while the other half of the album breaks up the mood, just a bit.

The 1970 album was issued on CD and Mp3 in 2005. It marked the first time that all the songs from the album had been in commercial circulation in more than 30 years. Up until 2005 Ray's Barnaby albums had remained in the vaults and never re-issued on CD...but that all changed when Collectible's Records re-issued 6 of Ray's Barnaby albums in 2005.

Revisiting Ray Stevens, Part 2...

Those who stop by this blog on a frequent basis know the love I have for Don't Laugh Now, the 1982 album from Ray Stevens. In part 1 of this latest series of blog entries I wrote about a 1990 compilation from Curb Records on Ray called His All-Time Greatest Comic Hits. This time the spotlight returns to Don't Laugh Now. I like all the songs on the 1982 album...and that album cover is great, too. The album's title is written in a 1950's neon style...perhaps as an acknowledgement of the album's lead-off track, "Such a Night"? When I saw Ray in concert back in early 2009 he opened up his show with "Such a Night". The song dates back to late 1953 when it was recorded by the R&B group, The Drifters. The group is often mentioned by Ray as one of his favorites. Aside from "Such a Night" the rest of the material doesn't offer a sound out of the past. As a songwriter Ray wrote the title track, "Don't Laugh Now", as well as the clever "Oh Leo Lady". The latter uses such subjects as the horoscope, astrology and astronomy in telling a love story of two opposites that found one another and formed a relationship against the odds. The love ballad "Written Down In My Heart" became a Top-40 country hit while the comical "Where the Sun Don't Shine" (an up-tempo sing-a-long with a gospel overtone) reached the lower portion of the charts.

1. Such a Night
2. Written Down In My Heart
3. Take That Girl Away
4. Always There
5. Where the Sun Don't Shine
6. Oh Leo Lady
7. Don't Laugh Now
8. This Old Piano
9. Country Boy, Country Club Girl
10. Why Don't We Go Somewhere and Make Love

In spite of "Written Down In My Heart" obtaining Top-40 country status it wasn't picked by RCA for inclusion on the 1985 release, Collector's Series. The tracks from Don't Laugh Now that appeared on the 1985 project were "Where The Sun Don't Shine", "Country Boy, Country Club Girl", and "Why Don't We Go Somewhere and Make Love". Since the Collector's Series release is the only overview of Ray's RCA output...a stingy 8 song overview I might add...but since it's the only collection to spotlight just his RCA recordings I continue to make people aware of it's existence.

The tracks that were lucky enough to make the Collector's Series in 1985 were:

1. Shriner's Convention; 1980
2. You're Never Goin' To Tampa With Me; 1980
3. Country Boy, Country Club Girl; 1982
4. Where The Sun Don't Shine; 1982
5. The Dooright Family; 1980
6. Let's Do It Right This Time; 1981
7. One More Last Chance; 1981
8. Why Don't We Go Somewhere and Make Love; 1982

In 1987 RCA re-released the collection with just a slight change in the track list. The 1987 re-issue was released on CD in 1992:

1. Shriner's Convention; 1980
2. You're Never Goin' To Tampa With Me; 1980
3. Country Boy, Country Club Girl; 1982
4. Where The Sun Don't Shine; 1982
5. The Dooright Family; 1980
6. Let's Do It Right This Time; 1981
7. Why Don't We Go Somewhere and Make Love; 1982
8. Put It In Your Ear; 1980

You can find reasonably priced Collector's Series releases on eBay. The 1985 and 1987 versions are readily available. While at eBay simply click the name of the CD for product descriptions. Usually sellers will post the image of the 1987 re-issue but feature the 1985 track list by mistake or they'll post the image of the 1985 release and feature the 1987 track list...so it's always wise to make sure you're placing an order for the correct version and obviously you can always ask a seller a question.

Revisiting Ray Stevens, Part 1...

One of the various compilations that have been issued on Ray Stevens through the years was this one in 1990. The collection was released by Curb Records and it eventually became certified by the RIAA as a Gold album. All-Time Greatest Comic Hits collects 10 of Ray's signature comic hits...from the '60s through the mid '80s. The picture of Ray comes from a publicity picture that appeared around the time "It's Me Again, Margaret" was a single. Long-time fans of Ray are well aware of the song and could easily tell which performance is being promoted in the picture. Nine of the ten songs on this collection were also featured in the 1987 releases of Greatest Hits and Greatest Hits, Volume Two on MCA. The only song that wasn't featured in either of the 1987 albums was "Bridget the Midget the Queen of the Blues". That particular song comes from late 1970 and was a Top-5 hit in England for Ray early in 1971. The 1990 collection on Curb Records is where I first heard that particular 1971 hit and have loved it ever since.

1. The Streak; 1974
2. Shriner's Convention; 1980
3. Would Jesus Wear a Rolex?; 1987
4. Mississippi Squirrel Revival; 1984
5. Gitarzan; 1969
6. It's Me Again, Margaret; 1984
7. Ahab the Arab; 1969 (re-recording of his 1962 hit)
8. In The Mood; 1976
9. Freddie Feelgood; 1966**
10. Bridget the Midget the Queen of the Blues; 1970

As most fans know, "Freddie Feelgood" was recorded by Ray in 1966. Three years later laughter was over-dubbed onto the recording when it appeared on the Gitarzan album. The over-dubbed version would be the one that became more widely distributed over the years. The same holds true for "Ahab the Arab". Most purists would prefer that the 1962 recording Ray did for Mercury Records be the only version that gets distribution but what happened is the 1969 re-recording became more widely available. I was raised familiar with the 1969 re-recording. When I was hearing the song as a kid and teenager on a couple Ray Stevens albums I was unaware that there existed a 1962 recording of the song. I love the song...the 1962 recording became a million seller...but while being a lover of the song it's the 1969 re-recording that I'll often make reference to. When played back to back with the 1962 original you can't help but be drawn into the way in which Ray sang the song in 1969. There's so much more energy and zest put into the 1969 recording...even though it's the same song and it's the same artist. Does this mean that I don't like the 1962 recording? No...I like them both...but 1969 wins out if we were to make it a contest.

"Would Jesus Wear a Rolex?" from 1987 was a big hit...although on the airplay charts in country music it didn't reach Top-40 status it nevertheless was a hit with the public who were caught up in the televangelist scandals that were going on at the time. It also became a song that got the attention of non-country music entities like The Tonight Show, for example. I'd have to look in my notes but I believe Ray appeared on the show twice in 1987...several months apart...specifically to perform the song. Paul Harvey, a radio commentator who I enjoyed hearing, was one of the critics of the song, as I found out, when I discovered a column he wrote in February 1988 where he made the song the topic of one of his columns. The song had been out half a year by then but the exposure in non-country music forums helped a lot in it being nominated for a Grammy in the Best Comedy Recording category. 1984's "Mississippi Squirrel Revival" was made into a music video in 1992. It was included in Ray's million selling home video, Comedy Video Classics. In 2009 Ray uploaded it onto You Tube and so far the video's gotten 1.2 million views. The exact total is 1,282,196 on-line views.

As a friendly reminder...tomorrow, August 1st, Ray Stevens will be the special guest of Eddie Stubbs on WSM radio. The show, Intimate Evenings, will air from 7-9pm Central time which is 8-10pm for the Eastern time zone. I'll be listening to the program, jotting down things that I hear, and writing an informal review of the interview. Ray's current music video, "Obama Budget Plan", has 429,298 on-line views so far. This is an increase of nearly 5,000 views in a day and a half.

July 29, 2011

Ray Stevens and Obama Money, Part 11...

In a jump of nearly 20,000 on-line views in two days time we see that the Ray Stevens music video of "Obama Budget Plan" now sits with 424,772 views. I was hoping that there would be a spike in the total of on-line views and with the debt ceiling and all of the bickering going on between the House and the Senate...in addition to the in-party bickering...Ray's music video clearly demonstrates the irony in the whole ordeal. The song's title is also a sarcastic reference to the fact that Obama, himself, doesn't even have any plan when it comes to slashing Government spending or balancing the budget...all he knows how to do is spend and spend and spend...which is why, as a joke, the "Obama Budget Plan" refers to a situation where a person spends and spends and spends without responsibility for their actions. Up until January 2011 Obama was able to get any spending bill he wanted passed in Congress since his party controlled both chambers of Congress throughout 2009 and 2010. Since January 2011 it's not been so easy (which is a good thing!).

As I touched upon in previous blog entries the Senate half of Congress (controlled by Democrats) has already said that the House version of the debt ceiling bill will die on the Senate floor. Obama wants a "long-term debt ceiling" bill...as we already know this isn't because he has a concern about the nation's economy (given his penchant for big spending). His goals are purely political. He doesn't want the debt ceiling or the budget or anything else that shows him to be the irresponsible big spender that he truly is...he doesn't want that to be on the minds of voters in 2012.

The Harry Reid version of the debt ceiling bill that Obama shows a lot more favoritism to would create a scenario that enables the debt and budget topic to be dismissed as a non-issue in 2012. If Reid's bill were to be signed into law somehow it would take the Government spending and debt off the table as a campaign issue in 2012. There's still ObamaCare, though, and the more things come out about that travesty the worse off the President becomes. Anyway, this debt ceiling controversy and the two very different bills clearly show that the Republicans have some sort of a plan to cut spending while the Senate simply wants to pass a bill that doesn't cut much of anything but would take the issue out of the headlines for political reasons. You'll never convince me the big spending Democrat party are now all of the sudden budget hawks and have fiscal responsibility. Democrats who pop up on TV, who clearly have a record of big spending but now preach fiscal responsibility since it benefits the President, is tough to stomach a lot of times.

Latest poll numbers show his approval ratings in the gutter...but I'm sure his Administration will cite an obscure poll that shows him to have the highest approval ratings of any President in history. In case you hadn't heard, his Administration likes to tout him as the greatest of all-time. It's laughable, yes, but scary when you realize his Administration truly believes it. The only thing in my opinion that the President is great at being is a narcissist and a class warfare advocate. His anger at BP during the Gulf Oil Spill is something that a lot of us would hope to see him display at America's true enemies...and terrorists at home and abroad...but no...Obama appears to coddle the enemy while taking great delight in humiliating a business. It really doesn't matter to me if BP was at fault or not...the facts are clear that given the opportunity to tear down a business or trash a business Obama goes for the jugular but when having the opportunity to trash and belittle America's real enemies, not an oil company that made a mistake, he's strangely quiet and carries a "I don't want to be bothered by that stuff" attitude.

It's hard to tell where the debt ceiling and the budget talks go from here. Earlier on July 29th the House passed the debt ceiling bill that John Boehner's been supporting...but Harry Reid has vowed to kill it once it enters the Senate. Meanwhile, Reid's version of the debt ceiling bill is most surely going to fail to generate votes in the House and so in the end we're back where we started.

In the meantime, enjoy Ray Stevens' "Obama Budget Plan"...you can watch the video here and can purchase the song on Ray's current CD, the Spirit of '76, which can be purchased at his web-site or you can purchase the Mp3 download at Amazon. The CD version of the collection won't be released until August 9th on Amazon...but the CD version is available at Ray's web-site for purchase now.

As a reminder...Ray Stevens will be heard on WSM radio August 1st between 7-9pm Central time, 8-10pm Eastern time. He'll be appearing on a recurring program hosted by Eddie Stubbs at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum called Intimate Evenings.

July 27, 2011

Ray Stevens and the Debt ceiling...

As the debt ceiling and all things budget heat up again Ray Stevens' latest hit video, "Obama Budget Plan", satirizes the federal Government's over-spending. The video's gotten 407,089 views to date. This is an increase of nearly 7,000 views in a day and a half. I'd love to see this video reach half a million views by mid August. It certainly has the potential...unless Ray comes up with a new music video by then!?

In true ironic fashion the video shows a family who take their cues from the Government...so the dad gets him a printing press and soon thereafter he makes tons of money, literally. The video shows the consequences of the family's money making scheme...watch until the end to see the irony play out.

As I mentioned in a previous blog entry...Ray Stevens will appear on WSM radio on August 1st. The time is 7-9pm Central (8-10pm Eastern). The program is called Intimate Evenings and it's hosted by Eddie Stubbs. I've known of Eddie for more than 10 years and in anything that he's a part of you can bet there's going to be a lot of interesting information and knowledge going out to all the listeners.

The show is held at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. I've heard several of the past episodes down through the years...each contains a small audience...and so Ray will have the chance to play off an audience during the 2 hour program. The tickets to the event are only available in extremely limited quantities and can only be "won" by calling the station at a certain time...last night as I was driving to work I picked up WSM on my car radio and heard Eddie give away tickets to the show. He often encourages people to call in if they know for certain that they'll be able to attend.

The Intimate Evening link gives a brief explanation of the event. The link gives a person the chance to win tickets to the show as well. Given that today is Wednesday and this coming Monday is August 1st that leaves only 3 more business days until the show. There's the rest of today, then there's Thursday and Friday.

"Obama Budget Plan", "The Skies Just Ain't Friendly Anymore", and "God Save Arizona" are just three of the wonderful songs on his current CD, Spirit of '76.

July 25, 2011

Ray Stevens and Obama Money, Part 10...

As I predicted yesterday, the Ray Stevens "Obama Budget Plan" video has crossed the four hundred thousand mark on it's three month anniversary. The exact view count for the on-line video is 400,698. Given that today, July 25, marks the video's third month of on-line availability and it's gotten more than 400,000 views in that time it works out to more than 100,000 views per month. The Spirit of '76 collection, which contains "Obama Budget Plan" and quite a few others, gets it's major CD distribution release on August 9.

The collection, as most of you perhaps already know, was originally released in Mp3 format several months ago but it was released without much fanfare. I assume the August 9th release will come complete with fanfare and publicity...and let's not forget that on August 1st Ray Stevens is to be on Eddie Stubbs radio program on WSM.

Edit: 7/26/11: I just left WSM's web-site and they now have a promo ad for the upcoming Ray Stevens interview. Here's a link giving a brief description of the event...

Intimate Evening.

I heard a radio show the other day whose host lamented the fact that the budget was a hot topic. The host even complained that the topic is tedious and a surefire way to turn off listeners and he apologized for talking about it. I didn't keep the radio tuned to the show to find out if the host continued on that sour road or not.

July 24, 2011

Let's Discuss Ray Stevens, Part 33...

The "Obama Budget Plan" from Ray Stevens is right on the doorstep of 400,000 on-line views. At the moment the exact numbers are 397,995! It wouldn't be too much of a prediction if I say that by the end of the day the video gets even more on-line views to push it beyond the 400,000 mark. The video's been on-line since April 25, 2011 and tomorrow will mark it's third month of availability. It would be a neat accomplishment for the video to reach the 400,000 mark later today or on it's third month anniversary tomorrow.

Month 1: April 25-May 25
Month 2: May 25-June 25
Month 3: June 25-July 25

August 2 continues to be the often quoted "deadline" when it comes to the country's debt fiasco. It's been reported countless times that Congress has until August 2 to raise the debt ceiling or a financial ripple effect will be felt world-wide. As this day looms the Ray Stevens music video spoofing Obama's reputation as a big spender and tax hiker is even more appropriate. I feel that Obama is capable of solving the debt and deficit issues rather quickly but his rigid far-left ideology prevents him from embracing the Republican proposed method of spending cuts and budget balancing that the country truly needs. The bill entitled Cut, Cap, and Balance that I refer to as C.C.B. passed the House of Representatives but was shot down in the Senate. The President made it public knowledge that he'd veto any bill that doesn't pretty much mirror his own ideology. He doesn't appear to be very willing to work with the Republicans (which isn't anything new). He prefers the Republicans work with him instead of the other way around. The main reason he doesn't want a short-term solution is not because he's concerned with the debt or anything associated with the nation's economy...the reason he doesn't want a short-term debt ceiling solution is because he doesn't want to have this in the headlines in 2012 when he's running for re-election. He wants any potentially negative story out of the headlines by this time next year so he can coast to a victory(?) in 2012.

Meanwhile, you can watch the video of the "Obama Budget Plan" on You Tube or visit Ray's web-site. He's got the video on the site's main page. Obviously you can watch the video here, too...

In keeping with the theme of finances and revenue that I started with I feel it's time to visit the world of advertising/sponsors and how it impacts directly or indirectly the music one hears on the radio.

One of the things that isn't reported on very often is how much influence advertisers have on the radio and television industry. The general public pays hardly any attention to this kind of thing but once in awhile news programs point out the importance of advertising revenue for any TV program or radio station. This is often during news segments that deal in financial news...the bottom line is it's an accepted concept that businesses crave advertisers. The equation that's often left out is the influence the advertisers have on practically everything. In a perfect world a business and it's advertiser(s) (also referred to as sponsors) work hand in hand. However there are certain times when an advertising company executive objects to something...and in order for the sponsor to get their way they threaten to pull their advertising unless the objectionable content is removed or reworked.

I came across an article several days ago while scouring the Google news archives and it sums up the above opening paragraph. The article is dated July 4, 1991 and it's no more than a paragraph in length but it shines the light on an alleged event that took place centering around a Ray Stevens single at the time titled "Working For the Japanese". In the report it's stated that the single was showing signs of becoming a hit in the Dallas, TX area but apparently, according to the report, a Toyota dealer pulled thousands of dollars in advertising from the radio station in protest of the song. Now, of course, you all can guess the outcome, right? Advertising money is so crucial that the radio station stopped playing the song because of the advertiser threat.

I'm not here to defend radio stations because there are plenty of cases where a radio programmer prevents the playing of songs that they do not particularly care for...whether there's a public demand or not. So, radio programmers are just as guilty when songs aren't being heard...but in this 1991 article it's made clear that it's the advertiser that played a big part in killing the song's momentum in the Dallas area. The article, in my opinion, shines the light on what happens when sponsors cross the line and become what I like to call activist advertisers.

Instead of an advertiser latching onto something that'll potentially make money for them it seems that modern-day advertisers are involved too much on content rather than profit and they become something of an activist...threatening to pull sponsorship if a TV show or a radio station doesn't cater to the sponsor's demands.

It used to be an advertiser craved the chance of having their product seen or heard by hundreds of thousands of TV viewers or radio listeners but pretty much the rule nowadays is for TV and radio to do what the sponsors dictate or face the consequences of losing financial support from the sponsor.

The 1991 article about the Ray Stevens song, brief as it is, is a perfect example of that kind of thing and I'm happy I found it so I can introduce it to those who may be curious why the song didn't become as big of a hit as it was capable of becoming. I've read comments from people all over the internet who've often mentioned that they vaguely remember hearing the song but couldn't recall hearing it a lot. The article, I think, is a small glimpse of what happened all over the country but the Dallas, TX blurb is what I come across one day. I'm sure there were copycat threats by sponsors at other radio stations in protest of the song, too, but that's just my guess. The fact that the article made mention that the offended party was a Toyota dealer explicitly shows that the sponsor allowed his occupation (a seller of Japanese cars) to dictate his decision.

Ironically, though, 12 years earlier in 1979 Ray Stevens was involved in a comical parody of Barry Manilow. I've not found any archived articles that indicate that radio or advertisers objected to this recording...I came across several commentaries from music critics of the time period that either loved the parody or hated it. Those who hated it all come across as the sort of critics who hate any novelty song. Nothing you say will change their negative opinion of any novelty song. When music critics slant their observations in such a transparent way their criticisms lose a lot of merit. This is specifically why I consider myself an enthusiast and not a critic...my obvious love of the songs recorded by Ray Stevens doesn't qualify me as being objectionable or critical. Sure, I have my opinions on a wide array of topics but I can't help it if I can't find any negative thing to say about Ray Stevens. The single that Ray had out at the time was "I Need Your Help, Barry Manilow". The song was written by Dale Gonyea and according to various articles that I came across a couple of years ago Barry Manilow himself thought the parody was funny. People Magazine did a write-up of the song...and a lot of other publications did write-ups of the song and highlighted Ray's career for those who discovered him because of the Manilow parody. As far as the charts go it landed in the Top-50 on the Billboard Hot 100 but what many historians cite as the ultimate of irony is the single almost made the Top-10 on the Adult-Contemporary charts in 1979...it fell one position short.

Why is the song's success on Adult-Contemporary radio ironic? Well, in 1979, Barry Manilow was the king of Adult-Contemporary radio...churning out hit after hit after hit...and to see a parody of him go as far as it did on Adult-Contemporary radio was rather ironic and astonishing. Manilow had been a hit maker since late 1974 with the debut of "Mandy". Throughout 1974 and into 1975 and beyond it wasn't uncommon to hear Manilow constantly...the peak in airplay came at some point in the mid '80s...so he had like an 11 year stretch of dominant airplay support (1974-1985). Afterward he became focused almost entirely on concept albums where he covered a lot of musical territory such as jazz, blues, big-band, and show tunes. Nowadays he's pretty much known for his series of decade look backs with such titles as Greatest Songs of the Fifties, Greatest Songs of the Sixties, etc. etc.

Sometimes I like to show off the detailed lengths that the 1979 parody went to. The more detailed that a parody is the more hilarious it becomes. There was a time when you could find Ray's single, with picture sleeve, on eBay a lot of times but it's rarely up for sale anymore. I admit that I never bought the picture sleeved single when it came up for sale on eBay because the sellers were always asking too much for it. I knew how rare the picture sleeve is but the price wasn't right. I bought the single, minus the picture sleeve, later on when it came up for sale.

The above images are of the Ray Stevens single from 1979 and Barry Manilow's second studio album. The other image of Ray at the piano for the album The Feeling's Not Right Again is a visual parody of Barry's 1975 album, Tryin' To Get The Feeling. As I pointed out in a couple of other blog entries: Ray's 1979 Manilow parody and the 1976 chicken-cluck version of "In The Mood" are the two recordings that CD compilers spotlight from his Warner Brothers era (1976-1979).

July 18, 2011

Studio Albums from Ray Stevens...

Good Monday mid-morning! Way, way back in 2008 when I started this fan blog page I listed the various albums that have been on the market spotlighting the music of Ray Stevens. A lot of the compilation albums that hit stores in the '70s and especially the '80s and into the early '90s were out of Ray's control. Some people assume that Ray was responsible for all of those various compilation releases but in reality he wasn't. Those days are long gone but glancing at Ray's discography it'll be helpful if we lift the studio albums from the list.

Contractually, in many artists career, the release of a Hits album or two is part of a deal. There were some compilation releases that Ray was aware of but a vast majority were the result of record labels licensing, re-licensing, re-re-licensing Ray's songs for low-budget collections. Those kind of releases flooded the market in the '70s and '80s and were out of Ray's control. So, for those who visit his web-site and look at his discography, I hope you all don't think that all of those releases were did with Ray's approval because they weren't.

There was a time when I could walk inside the local Wal*Mart in 1993/1994 and see quite a few releases on Ray from Polygram (a division of Mercury Records) and then there was the K-Tel various artist collections of novelty songs and often there would be 1 or 2 early '60s songs from Ray among the track list. There was also a collection of gospel songs released on K-Tel...the title of the release was The Gospel Side of Ray Stevens. This was more or less the third or fourth re-issue of his 1972 Turn Your Radio On album. A quick way of knowing if a compilation on Ray Stevens is contractually approved is if the record label is the same as the one Ray was recording for at the time of it's release. When Ray was on Barnaby they issued several compilation albums on him. The same holds true for MCA and Curb Records. A lot of the other compilation releases were did after he had long departed the label's roster.

Here are the studio albums from Ray Stevens:

1. 1,837 Seconds of Humor; 1962 (Mercury Records)
2. This Is Ray Stevens; 1963 (Mercury Records)
3. Even Stevens; 1968 (Monument Records)
4. Gitarzan; 1969 (Monument Records)
5. Have a Little Talk With Myself; 1969 (Monument Records)
6. Everything Is Beautiful; 1970 (Barnaby)
7. Unreal; 1970 (Barnaby)
8. Turn Your Radio On; 1972 (Barnaby)
9. Losin' Streak; 1973 (Barnaby)
10. Nashville; 1973 (Barnaby)
11. Boogity-Boogity; 1974 (Barnaby)
12. Misty; 1975 (Barnaby)
13. Just For the Record; 1976 (Warner Brothers)
14. Feel the Music; 1977 (Warner Brothers)
15. There Is Something On Your Mind; 1978 (Warner Brothers)
16. Be Your Own Best Friend; 1978 (Warner Brothers)
17. The Feeling's Not Right Again; 1979 (Warner Brothers)**
18. Shriner's Convention; 1980 (RCA)
19. One More Last Chance; 1981 (RCA)
20. Don't Laugh Now; 1982 (RCA)
21. Me; 1983 (Mercury)
22. He Thinks He's Ray Stevens; 1984 (MCA; Platinum)
23. I Have Returned; 1985 (MCA; Gold)
24. Surely You Joust; 1986 (MCA)
25. Crackin' Up; 1987 (MCA)
26. I Never Made a Record I Didn't Like; 1988 (MCA)
27. Beside Myself; 1989 (MCA)
28. Lend Me Your Ears; 1990 (Curb-Capitol)
29. #1 With a Bullet; 1991 (Curb-Capitol)
30. Classic Ray Stevens; 1993 (Curb)
31. Hum It; 1997 (MCA)
32. Christmas Through a Different Window; 1997 (MCA)
33. Ear Candy; 2000 (Clyde Records)
34. Osama Yo' Mama; 2002 (Curb)*
35. Thank You; 2004 (Clyde Records)
36. New Orleans Moon; 2007 (Clyde Records)
37. Hurricane; 2008 (Clyde Records)
38. Ray Stevens Sings Sinatra...Say What??; 2008 (Clyde Records)
39. One For the Road; 2009 (Clyde Records)
40. Ray Stevens Christmas; 2009 (Clyde Records)
41. We The People; 2010 (Clyde Records)
42. Spirit of '76; 2011 (Clyde Records)
43. Encyclopedia of the Greatest Novelty Songs (To Be Announced)

**-The 1979 release, The Feeling's Not Right Again, could be considered a compilation album since all the songs except one in particular were available on other albums. "I Need Your Help, Barry Manilow" was the only new song on the album...the rest of the material had been recorded in 1976, 1977, and 1978.

*-The 2002 release, Osama Yo' Mama, featured a track list mostly lifted from his 2000 Ear Candy release and so it, too, can be considered mostly a compilation project.

I included the 1979 and 2002 releases in the studio album category because each release contained a major hit single for Ray...it was a scenario in which each album was constructed to support the hit single instead of the other way around.

Here is a list of Notable Compilation Collections:

1. The Best of Ray Stevens; 1967 (Mercury; re-issued in 1970, 1987, and 1993)
2. Greatest Hits; 1971 (Barnaby)
3. The Very Best of Ray Stevens; 1975 (Barnaby)
4. The Many Sides of Ray Stevens; 1977 (GRT; 2-LP collection)
5. Greatest Hits; 1983 (RCA)
6. Collector's Series; 1985 (RCA; features 8 recordings Ray did for RCA)
7. Greatest Hits; 1987 (MCA; Platinum)
8. Greatest Hits, Volume Two; 1987 (MCA)
9. Get The Best of Ray Stevens; 1987 (MCA; 2-LP collection sold on TV)
10. His All-Time Greatest Comic Hits; 1990 (Curb; Gold)
11. Greatest Hits; 1991 (Curb; features alternate version of "There's a Star Spangled Banner")
12. Cornball; 1995 (Warner Brothers)
13. Do You Wanna Dance?; 1995 (Warner Brothers)
14. The Serious Side of Ray Stevens; 1995 (Warner Brothers)
15. The Country Hits Collection; 1998 (Varese Sarabande)
16. All-Time Greatest Hits; 2001 (Varese Sarabande)
17. The Millennium Collection; 2004 (Hip-O)
18. Box Set; 2005 (Clyde Records)

The 1985 collection was re-released in 1987 and in 1992. "One More Last Chance" appeared on the original release in 1985 but it was replaced on the two re-releases by the comical "Put It In Your Ear". Since Collector's Series is the only compilation to showcase Ray's RCA recordings exclusively it's become a notable release. I really don't see RCA or whoever owns the original recordings issuing anything on Ray anytime soon. It would be nice if Ray's studio albums from 1980, 1981, and 1982 were to get re-issued in Mp3 form or in CD form, but, considering that no other release outside of the eight song Collector's Series have become available the chances are it'll never happen. Warner Brothers, until 1995, also kept Ray's recordings in the vaults and never kept them in print and commercially available. It continues to remain baffling why Ray's RCA recordings remains out of print in an era when re-issue's of older albums is very commonplace.

The 1995 3-CD series from Warner Brothers represented the first time his recordings for the label were spotlighted in great detail. Most compilations prior to 1995 feature "In The Mood" and "I Need Your Help, Barry Manilow" but never bother to spotlight any of his other recordings for the label. The 3-CD series did a great job at spotlighting a lot of his under-rated recordings for the label...some of the recordings reached the country charts and one of them, "You Are So Beautiful", reached the country Top-20 in 1976...but given how out of circulation the songs had become (the label never kept any of his songs in print) it was, for a lot of people, like a discovery. There were a couple of songs Ray recorded for Warner Brothers that weren't highlighted in the 3-CD series but the bulk of his output for the label had finally become commercially available again.

The 2001 release on Varese Sarabande includes the rare 1960 recording by Ray of "Sgt. Preston of the Yukon". This recording is rarely available except on low-budget various artist collections...it's nice to see the song available on a collection as top-notch as All-Time Greatest Hits. This collection is also notable for including "Everybody Needs a Rainbow", an under-rated Top-40 country hit for Ray in 1974. It's a bouncy, cheery recording and it's never been included on hardly any collections, even though it was a hit, so it was great seeing it available on a modern-day release.

Earlier I mentioned the lack of RCA material in print by Ray Stevens. To date the RCA material is the least commercially available. Ray's studio albums for Barnaby Records, well, most of them, were re-issued on CD format in 2005 by Collectible's Records. Each CD contained 2 studio albums for a total of 6 studio albums re-issued altogether. 1973's Losin' Streak wasn't re-issued. It remains on vinyl.

The 2005 CD releases were:

1. Everything Is Beautiful / Unreal
2. Nashville / Boogity-Boogity
3. Turn Your Radio On / Misty

July 17, 2011

Ray Stevens and the Spirit of '76, Part 7...

Good late Sunday night to all the Ray Stevens fans! In my previous blog entry I took a look at a lot of the music video projects that Ray's been a part of since 1992. My original entry several days ago that I published was rather short and so earlier today I edited in a lot more information and included some recent pictures of myself spotlighting some of my Ray Stevens items. Tonight's blog entry is built around spreading the word around that Ray will be heard on WSM radio on August 1st. I don't believe I'm speaking of this too soon...but keep in mind that appearances can be canceled or postponed at the last minute...so I'm often weary of spreading the word around too far in advance. As of now, Ray will be heard at some point during the Eddie Stubbs show on WSM radio August 1st. The time given is 7-9pm...by my guess this is Central time. Those who live in the Eastern time zone that means 8-10pm. There's not much information, at the moment, on just what all will take place on August 1st but I assume Ray will be interviewed in person given that the radio program will be broadcast from the Country Music Hall of Fame...and more than likely the topic of his new CD, Spirit of '76, will be brought up. Also, a few weeks later, Ray will speak at a Chet Atkins event...the event takes place at the Hall of Fame, too, on August 13th.

So, my guess is, Ray's appearance on Eddie's radio program on August 1st will create awareness for both the new CD and the upcoming Chet Atkins event. Eddie, in addition to hosting a 5 hour radio program on WSM Monday-Friday, is an Opry announcer, the announcer for the Marty Stuart Show on RFD-TV, and he also hosts a monthly radio series called Intimate Evenings and it, coincidentally, takes place at the Hall of Fame...with a small audience...so chances are Intimate Evenings is the 2 hour program Ray will be appearing on August 1st!!

If I find out anything else about August 1st I'll either write a new blog or edit this one. WSM streams on-line for those who can't pick up the station on the radio.

Ray's current music video, "Obama Budget Plan", continued to hover around the 380,000 range. At last glance the video's view count was 379,889. I look for Ray to debut a new music video in August or September. The "Obama Budget Plan" is a little over 2 months old but in the world of on-line video that's the equivalent to the average life span of a song on the country charts. The difference being that on the radio a song is played for several more weeks after it's reached it's peak...commonly referred to as a recurrent by that time...on an on-line video site this of course doesn't happen and so a new video has to surface to continue a hot streak for the artist. I'm hoping a few of the songs on the Spirit of '76 emerge as music videos...as I've often said I like the potential of "Mr. President - Mr. President" to easily reach half a million people. There's also "New Normal" and "News Machine". It would be surprising if Ray doesn't do anything with the "Mr. President" song but ultimately which songs become music videos is up to Ray...I'll like whatever he puts out. By this time next year we'll all be focused on the 2012 Elections!

July 14, 2011

Ray Stevens: Comedy Video King...

The 1990's will forever be known among fans of Ray Stevens as the home video era. It was during this decade that Ray came up with a revolutionary idea to sell home videos through direct mail and by-pass retail stores. Comedy Video Classics would eventually become a million selling home video and along the reach the #1 spot on various home video charts in 1993 once it was released to retail stores. This is the DVD re-release from several years ago. I've got the original home video as you'll see below and I also have the DVD counterpart. The collection originally hit in 1992...commercials for the home video aired on TV stations night and day and all over the country. As mentioned, the collection hit retail stores in 1993. The product was issued by Curb Records. The home video remained a fixture on the weekly video charts for more than a year. It was eventually named the Home Video of the Year by Billboard magazine. The home video contains 8 music videos.

Amazing Rolling Revue is one of the products that was not advertised beyond his fan base. The project was also released in 1992 but it didn't feature a collection of music videos like Comedy Video Classics did. Instead, Amazing Rolling Revue was intended to be a pilot for a possible television program. The overall concept of the series was to focus on a literal traveling concert...Ray acted as emcee aboard a bus and at various moments we'd get comments from the bus driver, Darrell Waltrip. Sight gags include Waltrip treating the bus as if it were a race car...several times the camera shook to create the illusion that waltrip was being reckless behind the wheel. In addition to the intimate concert portion we also get sketches featuring Ray and several country music personalities. Sylvia joins Ray in a spoof of cooking shows where they sing "Making Cookies". Ray portrays his psychologist character, Sickmind Fraud, in a series of sketches. Chet Atkins makes an appearance in a commercial spoof in which Ray's character is selling replicas of Chet's hands for those who want to play the guitar just like Chet.

Ray Stevens Live! was the official follow-up to Comedy Video Classics as far as direct marketing is concerned. This 1993 home video duplicated the runaway success of it's predecessor as far as chart durability and sales. The only difference being Comedy Video Classics remained charted for a much longer period of time. In fact, when Ray Stevens Live! was released to retail stores in 1994, it often competed with Comedy Video Classics. It wasn't uncommon to see Ray's two home videos flip-flop from week to week: one week the 1992 home video would be at #5 and the 1993 project would be #4 and then the next week the positions would switch. In the Live! home video we see part of a show that Ray put on during his run in Branson, Missouri. Ray had a theater in operation during 1991 through 1993 and he taped several of his performances there. The first Live! home video featured quite a bit of his performances and between song banter. If one has never seen Ray perform "I Saw Elvis in a U.F.O." then you owe it to yourself to look for Ray Stevens Live! on eBay and other on-line flea markets.

Not advertised to the masses this home video sequel includes additional performances from the same concert captured on Ray Stevens Live!. In More Ray Stevens Live! we also are treated to performances by Ray's band and harmony singers. Ray's band went by the name of the French Fried Far Out Legion. Ray's brother, John, is featured heavily in this particular home video as he serves as the theater's emcee. John introduces all of the musicians and harmony singers which leads into performances of "Bridge Over Troubled Water" and "Love Can Build a Bridge". There's a performance of "R-E-S-P-E-C-T" by Janice Copeland in character as Beulah. Copeland was a featured vocalist and co-star in many of the comical sketches that Ray presented for the fans. In the first Live! home video Copeland can be seen as Jane during the performance of "Gitarzan". Ray performs several songs on More Ray Stevens Live! but a heavier dose of the camera time is focused on his band and the performances cut out of the first video. For those curious Ray performs the following songs:

1. Cletus McHicks and His Band from the Sticks
2. Turn Your Radio On
3. In The Mood**
4. The Haircut Song
5. The Mississippi Squirrel Revival
6. It's Me Again, Margaret
7. Everything Is Beautiful

(**)- "In The Mood" was presented in an elaborate production where the members of Ray's band pantomimed the chicken clucking performance that played over the public address system. Most of the band members got into the act by flapping their arms and tilting their heads back and fourth clucking to the rhythm. The audience, I imagine, were well aware that the band wasn't actually clucking like chickens but nonetheless appreciated the effort that was put into the performance.

A few months after Ray closed down his theater he embarked on the making of this direct-to-home video movie. The movie runs 110 minutes and the story deals with an artist who doesn't get along that well with new management. As a comedy singer, Ray plays the part rather semi-autobiographical. Ray's new record producer, in the movie, wants Ray to start marketing himself as a serious artist. He tells Ray of his bright idea which backfires. Ray balks at the idea and is soon running from his record producer as well as Dudley Dorite of the highway patrol. While the record producer and his underlings set about destroying Ray's career and labeling him politically incorrect, Dudley Dorite in the meantime has gathered people who have the same names as those that Ray's put into songs over the years. These people, according to the movie's plot, really exist and they're seeking damages based upon the "embarrassment" that Ray's songs has brought to an entire community. This particular home video followed the previous two's shiny path to Platinum certification. The video reached retail stores in late 1996 and just like it's two predecessors (Comedy Video Classics and Ray Stevens Live!), Get Serious! became a multi-week chart hit throughout the last part of 1996 and into the first half of 1997.

This particular home video is a behind the scenes documentary on how Ray put together his Get Serious! movie. The program features snippets of interviews by those who appeared in the movie. We get comments from the likes of Buddy Kalb, Michael Airington, Chet Atkins, director Rod Thompson, and others. Obviously I suggest you look for the 1995 Get Serious! movie before you go about tracking the documentary down. The documentary is rarely offered for sale but it's a nice companion to the movie. It's a neat look into how the movie was made and it includes bloopers/out-takes showing how much fun everyone had during the production. The title of the home video plays on the unbelievable idea that Ray Stevens would make a feature length movie: Ray Stevens Made a Movie?? Get Serious!!. Those who had supporting roles in Ray's movie were: Buddy Kalb, Connie Freeman, Jerry Clower, and Michael Airington. The cameo appearances are rather lengthy: Chet Atkins, Williams and Ree, Johnny Russell, Charlie Chase, Larry Black, George Lindsey, and several faces familiar to those who own Ray's 1992 Comedy Video Classics release.

A carrying case...originally the case was manufactured to house Ray's first 6 home video releases. However, the movie documentary was something that I didn't own at the time and I substituted it's space in the carrying case with Ray's 2000 home video, Funniest Video Characters. Even though I've since bought the movie documentary I've yet to place it in this carrying case and so Funniest Video Characters continues to remain on display. The case is something that was mailed to me by the fan club as one of the runners-up in a story contest. There was a contest among fan club members to come up with a story that made sense but incorporated a lot of Ray Stevens song titles in the dialogue. I can't even remember what in the world I wrote but apparently it was sufficient since I was one of the people awarded one of those carrying cases. The winner received more things, obviously. We each got a copy of the winner's story. I have it tucked away in one of my desk drawers along with other items from the fan club days. Ray's fan club closed down in 2002 but I had been a member since 1995. I used $10.00 of my high school graduation money to become a member. Then when I got a job a year later I continued sending in my annual payment.

The way I understand it, based upon my own theories, the main reason the fan club shut down (after having been active since 1987) is because of the internet and how people from all over the world could instantly visit a singer's web-site and potentially purchase music and other items. No longer was it financially viable to have a fan club up and running if people from all over the world can easily visit a web-site and purchase music, t-shirts, home videos, etc. etc. using an on-line order form. Fan clubs are still around...but nowadays they're mostly used for publicity purposes and for concert ticket giveaways...most artist's sell their merchandise to the world using their own on-line store. It used to be completely different...a person more or less had to become a fan club member in order to purchase music that had disappeared from the store shelves. When I was a member of Ray's fan club you'd get a catalog in the mail of all the items they were currently selling. You'd also get a newsletter and some trinkets throughout the year just for being a member.

This 1996 best-of collection, Latest and Greatest, showcased exactly what the title states. Several of Ray's music videos from 1995 (the latest) and those from 1992 (the greatest) appeared on this release. There's a total of 10 music videos...6 of them are lifted from his 1995 Get Serious! movie and the other 4 come from 1992's Comedy Video Classics. This 10 music video collection, released in the summer of 1996, wasn't promoted or publicized too much and was more or less an item not widely known beyond his fan-base. I remember that when the collection was released there was a small mention of it in one of his fan club newsletters and so I kind of had an idea that there wasn't going to be much of a publicity push for the collection. Anyway, the way I see it, this 1996 collection was more or less the inspiration for 2001's Greatest Video Hits...a release that was sold through his fan club and eventually in other outlets.

In 2003 Ray released a 6 song collection of music videos called Cartoon Video Collection. The videos feature live-action Ray interacting with limited animation characters while the background images are all illustrated designs. In one of the videos, "Hang Up and Drive", various car wrecks are comically highlighted as a result of driving while talking on a cell-phone. The collection features the following music videos: "Bridget the Midget the Queen of the Blues", "Deerslayer", "Erik the Awful", "Gone for Good", "Hang Up and Drive", and "Osama Yo' Mama".

This 2-disc collection is a 2004 DVD release featuring 21 music videos. There are 10 music videos on disc 1, plus a bonus video, equaling 11 altogether. There are 8 music videos on disc 2, plus 2 bonus videos, equaling 10 altogether. Disc 2 is 2000's Funniest Video Characters with 2 bonus videos added on. Disc 1 is 2001's Greatest Video Hits, minus the music video "Santa Claus Is Watching You" and replaced with "Power Tools", with 1 bonus video added on. The 2001 release features Ray delivering commentary between almost all of the music videos and explaining how he wrote or found the songs he recorded. He talks about the day Bill Justis approached him with the phrase "Gitarzan" which led to the writing of the song. The bonus music videos contained on this 2-disc collection are "Thank You" on Disc 1 and "Hello Mama" and "Osama Yo' Mama" on Disc 2. The name of this 2004 release is Complete Comedy Video Collection. Obviously with the omissions of several music videos it's not exactly "complete" but it's the closest thing to a complete collection of his music videos at that point in time.

These two DVD releases from Curb Records arrived in 2006. Each release features 5 animated music videos. In the DVD titled Gourmet Restaurant we see animated music videos of "This Ain't Exactly What I Had In Mind", "Barbeque", "Jeremiah Peabody's Green and Purple Pills", "Gourmet Restaurant", and "The Ballad of Cactus Pete and Lefty". The other collection, Teenage Mutant Kung Fu Chickens, features the following animated videos: "Can He Love You Half as Much as I?", "Harry the Hairy Ape", "Teenage Mutant Kung Fu Chickens", "Misty", and "Along Came Jones". These music videos, featuring limited animation, were the next step in Ray's earlier experimentation of animated videos on the earlier release called Cartoon Video Collection. The difference between the 2003 and 2006 music videos are the appearance of live-action Ray in 2003. The 2006 videos feature Ray in animated form as you can tell from looking at the DVD covers.

In 2009 Ray issued the Cartoon Carnival series. The series came in Volume One and Volume Two. Each Volume consisted of 10 music videos. The allure of the collections were the additions of 2 newly released music videos on each Volume. "The Moonlight Special" and "Smokey Mountain Rattlesnake Retreat" appeared for the first time on Volume One while "The Camping Trip" and "Hugo the Human Cannonball" appeared for the first time on Volume Two. The other 16 music videos in the two volume series all appeared on collections released in 2003 and 2006.

Since December 2009 music videos have once again become the primary source of creativity and outlet for Ray Stevens. Starting with "We The People" and going forward Ray has released several music videos on the video hosting site, You Tube. All of the videos carry either a political or patriotic flavor...and at the core of all the releases is Ray's distinctive style of humor and his broad acting skills. Millions upon millions of people have watched various music videos from Ray Stevens...and this particular blog entry I feel has demonstrated that Ray Stevens truly is the Comedy Video King.

July 13, 2011

Let's Discuss Ray Stevens, Part 32...

Several weeks ago the Examiner web-site conducted an interview with Ray Stevens that I posted about on this blog page. It was an interview that touched upon the many areas of the music business that Ray has had a hand in. I've spoken about my thoughts when it comes to Ray's lack of membership in the Country Music Hall of Fame...and that subject is a topic of discussion in this latest Examiner article. It's more of an interview than an actual article but I often use words interchangeably based upon my particular mood. The interview is fan-driven and pro-Ray Stevens...those are a couple of hints as to who's being interviewed. Although Ray isn't a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame he often appears at the Hall of Fame participating in benefit concerts and early in 2010 the Hall of Fame saluted Ray in their Nashville Cats series. Ray appeared during the Hall of Fame ceremonies for Ralph Emery as well as Sonny James, just to name a couple. Ray, himself, has never been elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame and it's a baffling mystery as to why. All of that is discussed in the Examiner link.

I would like to mention that no matter who's a member or who isn't a member, The Country Music Hall of Fame is still a fabulous place. I've never been there in person (I live multiple states and thousands of miles away) but you don't necessarily need to have first hand experience to know how fabulous the place is. The pictures of the place and the events that take place there speak for themselves. Sometimes the country music talk-show duo, Crook and Chase, tape episodes of their TV programs inside the Hall of Fame and we get to see exhibits and other artifacts on-camera. The pictures and everything else I've seen of the Hall of Fame is proof enough that the venue is great.

I'd like to clear up some things, though, about the Hall of Fame. I think there's a segment of country music fans out there who hold the Hall of Fame itself responsible if their favorite singer doesn't "get in". Like other Halls of Fame it all depends on votes. The Baseball Hall of Fame, for example, is decided by the sports writers...if a player doesn't get in then it isn't the fault of the Hall of Fame...it's the fault of the voters.

Those who vote for the Country Music Hall of Fame...they are the ones to blame if an artist doesn't get in...the actual Hall of Fame shouldn't be held accountable. The venue honors those who've been elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Now, speaking of the Hall of Fame, Ray will make an appearance there next month. In August he'll appear on a panel discussing Chet Atkins. The panel, as of now, will consist of 13 people and it's to take place on August 13. I have no idea if this panel is open to the public or if it's an invitation-only event. I assume it's open to the public. Quite a few things that go on in Nashville (particularly benefit shows and publisher gala's) are typically closed to the public and a lot of time the event is reported on days later and in some cases not even mentioned to the general public at all.

Anyway...all of this is part of a Chet Atkins exhibit at the Hall of Fame which opens on August 12. Throughout the month there will be events focusing on the life and career of Chet including the discussion panel on August 13. The Hall of Fame web-site gives a much more descriptive explanation. The event-by-event breakdown is located here.

July 11, 2011

Ray Stevens gets My Vote...

If Ray Stevens ever ran for public office he'd get my vote!! Since late 2009 Ray, in my opinion, has become a legitimate political entertainer. Things got started with a music video entitled "We The People" and it's continued on since then. The music video has gotten 4.4 million views on You Tube...it's a song all about Obama Care. I feel that some people still don't really know what Obama Care really is and what the underlying agenda behind it is. I could explain it all but it would probably result in a long discussion about social justice, socialism, and the blending of the two to create the single-payer health care dream that Obama Care opens the door to. The defeat of the President in 2012 will set in motion a change in direction, for the better, and the nation will drop all of these socialistic kinds of programs that have been put in place since 2009...most notably Obama Care will be stopped in it's tracks. If the President gets another 4 years he'll sow the seeds of single-payer healthcare doom to the point where it'll be nearly impossible to dismantle.

Ray Stevens and Obama Money, Part 9...

So far 368,333 people have seen the Ray Stevens music video, "Obama Budget Plan". According to the latest statistics 1,670 people have given the video a thumbs up while 75 have given it a thumbs down. Whenever I see a thumbs down rating for a Ray Stevens video I always wonder if the "voter" is rating the video based on it's production values or if the voter is rating it a thumbs down because of the message that's being delivered in the song. 99.9% of the time I'll say the voter is sending a political message with their thumbs down rating. Probably .1% of the thumbs down votes are made by the aesthetic crowd who have no political affiliation one way or the other.

The fact that 75 people don't like the video makes me think that they're clueless about what's going on with the nation's economy and they're oblivious to the European socialist model that the President holds close to his heart. Now, obviously, 75 is a minority when compared to the 1,670 that like the video. It gives a person the ability to see that no matter what the President does or has in store that there will be people who won't wake up from the delirium of 2008's election cycle and will show their support for him no matter what. Even when it ultimately costs these people more and more of their liberty and freedom they'll still support him. It's those people who the country should be fearing and be alerted by...it isn't any member of a Tea Party or any conservative and certainly it isn't Fox News.

How are Ray's other music videos doing? They're continuing to rack up views on a consistent basis. "Come to the USA" continues to lead the pack. It's been seen on-line by 5,339,678 people since May 2010. "We The People", debuting in December 2009, is next in line with 4,442,722. "Mississippi Squirrel Revival" has 1,226,949 views and following this is "Osama Yo' Mama" with 1,117,408. Rounding out the Top-5 videos is "The Streak" with 1,078,522 views.

One of the things that I wonder about is if Ray will release another music video centering on a song from Spirit of '76 or will he hold off until sometime late in the year when the 2012 election season officially kicks off? A lot of candidates have made their Presidential run official but the meat of the election season doesn't really get underway until late in the preceding year of an election and then by the summer of an election year things really get intense. I look for the President to start officially running for re-election in December 2011...although a lot of us feel that he's been in campaign mode ever since he took office because he's always patting himself on the back and bringing up the memories of the previous Administration and saying how better off we all are since he's been President. It's comical, I know, but he truly believes it.

22 years ago yesterday on July 10, 1989 marked a sad day in the animation world as it lost Mel Blanc at the age of 81. I wrote a lengthy salute/tribute to him in my off-topic Animated blog page yesterday. I didn't do a full-blown life story or anything but I did highlight some of the things he did in his career. The title of the blog entry is called "Remembering Mel Blanc" and it can be found when you click here. Why am I mentioning this on a Ray Stevens blog page!? Ray often remarked that one of the comedians he was raised listening to was Jack Benny. Mel was a part of Jack's supporting cast. Mel was also the voice of a lot of Warner Brothers cartoon characters...and he made children's comedy records for Capitol in the '40s, '50s, and '60s.

July 10, 2011

Ray Stevens: Nostalgia Valley, Part 26...

Practically everyone knows of "The Streak", the multi-million selling single from Ray Stevens in 1974 spoofing the fad of streaking. What most people don't know about, except the dedicated fans perhaps, is Ray's song about a flasher. I'm sure people know what a flasher is. It's someone who flashes portions, or all, of their nude body in public places. They're not running or sprinting as they do this...therefore it's technically not considered streaking.

Ray released a comedy album in 1974 titled Boogity-Boogity. The title comes from the phrase heard throughout "The Streak". The album features 9 songs...some were previously released in the late '60s. There were 6 brand new recordings on the 1974 album and those were: "The Streak" (obviously); "Heart Transplant", "Just So Proud To Be Here", "Don't Boogie Woogie", "The Moonlight Special", and the other streaking song, "Smith and Jones". The 3 other recordings on the 1974 album are 1969's "Freddie Feelgood" and "Bagpipes, That's My Bag", plus 1970's "Bridget the Midget".

Alert! Alert! The following is a short review of "Smith and Jones". For those who hadn't heard the song, yet, the following will contain spoilers and so if you want to be surprised when you get the Mp3 single you should skip the following paragraph.


"Smith and Jones" is literally a story song...it features Ray playing the part of a storyteller who tells the story of a CIA agent named Smith and an FBI agent named Jones who are hot on the trail of a flasher. Neither agent knows the other is on the case and they both confuse one another as the flasher through a chain of funny events. The case has some high consequences as neither the CIA nor the FBI will vouch for their respective agent's should anything happen to damage the investigation. Stakeouts like streaker stalking is top secret of course!! As mentioned, through a chain of funny events "Smith and Jones" spring to action and apprehend one another near a public fountain which leads to some more ironic events when the actual flasher shows up. Ray delivers the story in the same exaggerated southern drawl that he used on "The Streak" when he was portraying the eyewitness warning Ethel not to look.


Those interested can purchase the digital download of Boogity-Boogity from Amazon's Mp3 store. You can purchase either the full collection or you can purchase "Smith and Jones" by itself for 99 cents.

July 9, 2011

Ray Stevens and Obama Money, Part 8...

I came across another write-up of Ray Stevens' current CD, the Spirit of '76, and it can be found when you click here. It's from a web-site called Music News Nashville and it shown up this morning when I did a blog search for Ray. The date shows July 9th and so it's hot off the presses. Another thing hot off the presses...well, to be more specific, the presses are hot as Ray and company print money as far as the eye can see in the "Obama Budget Plan"....a humorous look at the debt crisis and the irony in all the things that the Federal Government can get away with that We the People would obviously be arrested for. The video's been on-line for 2 months now and it's gotten 363,470 views. The article above also contains a link to Ray's web-site...so once you've read the write-up, for those who hadn't purchased the current CD yet, click the link to Ray's web-site and see what you're missing out on.

July 7, 2011

Ray Stevens: 45 at 36...

The music recorded by Ray Stevens a year before I was born continues to remain some of my favorites of his career. Turning 36 this year are the recordings from 1975. "Misty" is the first song of his from 1975 that I heard. It's featured on his famous 1987 Greatest Hits release on MCA. How famous? Well, the collection became a Platinum seller...so it was pretty popular throughout the latter half of the '80s. At some point in the mid '90s I heard another of his 1975 hits for the first time...the inclusion of "Indian Love Call" on a 1991 Greatest Hits collection from Curb Records is where I heard his Doo-wop/R&B/soulful rendition of the pop standard for the first time. I've got clips of Ray singing "Indian Love Call" and "Misty" from a 1975 episode of Pop! Goes the Country. You've seen my posts about his performance but if not search the archives or Google the name of my blog along with the phrase "Pop! Goes the Country" and see what the search results find. Later in the year "Young Love" was released as a single as was "Lady of Spain". Ray slows down the pace dramatically in his rendition of "Young Love"...it comes off as a completely different song even though it's the same one performed, up-tempo, by Sonny James as well as Tab Hunter.

In each performance we're treated to Ray's unique arrangements as he turns decades old pop songs into contemporary recordings. "Lady of Spain", for example, carries a touch of Fats Domino in Ray's vocals. Ray goes all out in the recording and the arrangement is up-tempo and on the wild side and it's wonderful. Those who've never heard Ray's version you're in luck...remember a few years ago Collectable's Records issued several of his Barnaby releases onto CD and Mp3? Well, the Mp3's are still available on Amazon...and you can own your Mp3 version of the 1975 Misty album right here and hear all of those wonderful recordings for yourselves.

July 4, 2011

Ray Stevens and the Spirit of '76, Part 6...

Happy 4th of July all you Ray Stevens fans! As usual, on the 4th of July or in the days leading up to it, I often single out patriotic or military songs that have been recorded by Ray Stevens. I do this to keep things up to date. I could easily say "check my July archives in 2010 and 2009" but that isn't something that I intend on doing. Given that Ray for the last year and a half (December 2009 to the present) has reinvented himself as a voice for the Independent voter and one who often thanks the branches of the military on a consistent basis in his interviews I decided to once again write about his patriotic contributions on this 4th of July 2011.

The 2010 CD from Ray Stevens, We The People, is chock full of patriotic and political songs. Up until a few months ago this was considered Ray's current CD. He has since released the Spirit of '76 which I'll write about a little bit later. Decked out in Founding Father clothing, Ray issued this amazing collection several months after taking the internet world by storm with his music video, "We The People". This collection features most of the songs that have become You Tube fixtures for Ray in recent years: "We the People", "Caribou Barbie", "Throw the Bums Out!", "Come to the USA", and "The Global Warming Song". The CD also contains "Thank You", an earlier patriotic ballad from 2003 that fit the overall theme of the collection. As far as patriotism/military songs are concerned "Thank You", obviously, is in that mood. A song called "Midnight in Baghdad", a haunting ballad if I do say so myself is about the trials and tribulations of war and how it affects different people in different ways. It's the album closer. "Let's Roll" incorporates a lot of military originated catch-phrases, battle cries, and lyrics synonymous with heroism. The phrase's modern usage is connected to a passenger in one of the hijacked airplanes on 9/11. Ray wrote the song. He also co-wrote "Thank You" and "Stand Up". An additional song on this CD that Ray co-wrote is "The Fallen Ones". As you can perhaps tell by the song's title it's about the soldiers who've died during battle.

"There's a Star Spangled Banner" appears on this 1991 compilation from Curb Records and as long-time fans are aware it's an alternate version from the one that appears on his 1989 Beside Myself album. Whereas the 1989 recording tells the story of a POW in Beirut who longs to have freedom, the 1991 version starts out with a history of many of the wars and battles that the American flag endured through the decades. Each version keeps the same melody and the chorus is the same...the only difference is the opening verse. The Gulf War was going on in 1991...which obviously required some different lyrics during the opening verse so as not to be directly identified with Beirut. That's all just my opinion, though. I have no first-hand information as to why there was a re-write of the lyrics...but I think my opinion as to why there was a re-write makes perfect sense.

If any of you visit on-line music sites...and even Amazon's Mp3 store...you'll no doubt be familiar with the way on-line stores are erroneous with the song's title. Many places refer to Ray's song as "There's a Star Spangled Banner Waving Somewhere". This is incorrect! That particular recording was recorded by a lot of other artists but Ray never recorded it. The actual title of Ray's song is simply "There's a Star Spangled Banner". I always feel compelled to mention that because there may be people who see the song listed incorrectly in an Mp3 store and because of the mistake the consumer may be disappointed that they didn't get the song that was advertised. That sort of thing is why I always try to point out the mistakes, the misinformation, and the myth's from critics, reporters, and other bloggers when it comes to Ray's career and music.

Ray's current CD, Spirit of '76, has only been available for a couple of months. It hit in April 2011 as an Mp3 digital download on Amazon. About a week or so later it became available in Mp3 and CD format at Ray's web-store. According to Amazon, the CD version of Spirit of '76 will finally become available for purchase at their web-site on August 9th. I know a lot of people nowadays buy Mp3's instead of CD's but there's a segment of Ray's audience that like having a CD of music with art work, musician and songwriter credits, and everything else that comes with a standard CD. As you can see Ray's CD uses the iconic image of The Spirit of '76 painting. Unlike the 2010 CD which contained 22 songs and a DVD of 4 music videos this latest one is the standard 11 song collection. It features "God Save Arizona", "The Skies Just Ain't Friendly Anymore", "Obama Budget Plan", and eight more.

Ray Stevens on Hee-Haw, Part 2!!

In a previous blog in February of this year I did a review of a 1972 episode of Hee-Haw with Ray Stevens as a guest star. It was the first episode of the 1972-1973 season. As you may know one of the video clips of his two performances that were available on You Tube have been taken off-line. "Turn Your Radio On" is currently still on-line but "Along Came Jones" was removed.

Ray would make a second appearance on the show several weeks later in 1972 but then wouldn't make a return visit for a couple of seasons. As I mentioned in previous blog entries Ray didn't appear annually on Hee-Haw until the '80s and from that point forward you could count on seeing him as a guest and later, guest host, on numerous episodes throughout the '80s. I've seen episodes in later years where Ray performed "Shriner's Convention" and "Love Me Longer" on a 1980 episode. There were episodes I saw where he performed "Can He Love You Half as Much as I?", "Would Jesus Wear a Rolex?", "The Flies of Texas Are Upon You", "Sex Symbols", "Barbeque", and "Where Do My Socks Go?".

I know he's appeared on more episodes and sang more songs than those on Hee-Haw but I never became knowledgeable about Ray until the mid '80s and so that's where my memory dates back to. The 1980 episode with Ray as a guest is something I watched on The Nashville Network in the mid 1990's back when the network was on the air and had added the reruns of the show onto their line-up.

July 3, 2011

Ray Stevens: 45's at 45...

Several singles from Ray Stevens reach 45 this year...as most people who visit this fan blog are aware I have several continuing blog titles. Often I like to play on the numbers such as "45 at 20" or "45 at 30", etc. etc. and today's blog is no different. Released on Monument Records in 1966 were a trio of 45's by Ray Stevens that turn 45 this year: "A-B-C", "Devil May Care", and "Freddie Feelgood". I like all of those songs (not a big surprise!) and I also like the B-sides, too: "Party People", "Make a Few Memories", and "There's One In Every Crowd". Ray is at his throatiest in several of these songs...and let's see how many people can resist not tapping your foot in rhythm while Ray, in song, insists to the woman that it's best to "Make a Few Memories" before they end their relationship.

"A-B-C" is your typical pop love song of the era while it's B-side, "Party People", has another one of those irresistible melodies. "Devil May Care" has an arrangement nearly similar to "Down in the Boondocks" which isn't too surprising considering both songs were written by Joe South. In fact, South wrote several of the songs that Ray recorded during 1966-1967. South is credited as the songwriter on not only "Devil May Care" but also "Party People" and "Make a Few Memories". Ray wrote "A-B-C", "Freddie Feelgood", and "There's One In Every Crowd". Also, for those who don't know, out of those six recordings that were issued in 1966, only one of them was a pure novelty song as evidenced by it's eye-catching title: "Freddie Feelgood". The full title is actually "Freddie Feelgood and His Funky Little Five Piece Band". The song illustrates the love of small R&B/jazz combo's that Ray has always said he has a fondness for. This is why you rarely hear a stone-cold country music recording from Ray...unless he's intentionally arranging a song to sound country. A lot of the time Ray performed what's been described as bluesy-country. When Ray started to navigate toward country music in the late '70s he was no stranger to country music audiences...and the non-comical recordings that he put out in the late '70s and early '80s were chock full of bluesy sounding arrangements.

Decades later, in 2000, "Freddie Feelgood" was made into a music video. In the video Ray plays all members of the band. In one scene all five of them appear on screen together playing the instruments. Obviously this is achieved through camera tricks and other video techniques allowing Ray to appear on screen multiple times. To refresh the memories of the readers out there: Freddie played trumpet; Yum-Yum played the drums; Ace played the bass; Tyrone played trombone; Percy played piano. Those who want to see the music video look no further than Ray's own web-store. A link to one of the store's pages is located below.

The 2000 home video, Funniest Video Characters, has long been out of print but you can find the "Freddie Feelgood" music video in a DVD compilation called Complete Comedy Video Collection located here at Ray's web-store. The DVD features a total of 20 music videos. It collects 7 music videos from 1992's Comedy Video Classics; 3 music videos from 1995's Get Serious! direct-to-video movie; all 8 music videos from 2000's Funniest Video Characters; plus 2 additional bonus music videos from 2002 and 2004 respectively.

Exquisite may be the best word to describe 1966's "Party People". Admittedly, I'm not a party hound, so this song became an instant favorite the moment I heard it for the first time. There was a CD re-issue of Ray's 1968 album, Even Stevens, during the mid '90s and as one of the bonus tracks was a song called "Party People". That CD re-issue is where I heard this song for the first time. Spoiler alert: There's a bit of irony within the song as Ray laments that even though he's lost the woman due to the allure of the party life he finds himself falling victim to the very same lifestyle he admonished the woman for. For him, having the woman was his own kind of party...but now that she's gone he finds himself becoming one of those "Party People" that he seemingly has an equal understanding and disgust for. At least that's my interpretation of the song...others may come away with a completely different interpretation.